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Burma Opposition Rejects Government Media Claims of Mass Party Resignations

The pro-democracy opposition in Burma has dismissed claims in the government-controlled news media of mass resignations from the party. The response follows expressions of concern that the military junta may be planning to shut down the party.

A spokesman for the opposition National League for Democracy, Nyan Win, Monday denied reports in the Burmese media that hundreds of local party leaders had resigned in recent weeks.

"They (government officials) are making pressure on N.L.D. (members) to resign from the League, but some of them are a fake because they are not N.L.D. members," Win said.

He says in other cases, resignation letters that members have reportedly signed have not been received by the party's national headquarters.

In recent weeks, the Burmese media almost daily have been reporting resignations by local N.L.D. officials, who are reported to condemn the party for criticizing the state, maintaining ties to exiles, insurgents and terrorists, and refusing to participate in developing the country.

The reports have led to fears that the junta may be planning to ban the N.L.D. by withdrawing the party's official registration.

The party won parliamentary elections in 1990, but was never allowed to take power. More than 100 senior party leaders are currently in prison and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been under house arrest since a major crackdown three years ago.

Spokesman Nyan Win says if the Burmese government wanted to ban the N.L.D., it could do so any time. He believes the government merely wants to keep the party weak.

An independent politician who is a frequent government critic, Win Naing, notes that the campaign against the N.L.D. has been going on for years, but he does not believe the party will be banned.

"The SPDC would like to keep N.L.D. as long as possible, at least as a showcase. It needs the N.L.D. to present to the world that it has opposition in Burma," he said.

Nevertheless, the reports are causing concern in the region. The special Burma envoy of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, last week warned that closing the N.L.D. would make it difficult for Burma to claim that it is moving toward democracy.

The Secretary of ASEAN's inter-parliamentary caucus on Burma, Teresa Kok of Malaysia, says that action against the N.L.D. would not diminish its support.

"Even if that happens, I believe the N.L.D. members and the people in Burma, they will still recognize the N.L.D. and Aung San Suu Kyi to be their leaders," she said.

She adds that international pressure for political reform in Burma will not decline either.

Burma, a member of ASEAN, has been under increasing pressure to move toward multi-party democracy. It has announced a "road map" to democracy and has convened a national convention that is drafting a constitution. But critics note that major political figures, including N.L.D. delegates, have been excluded. They say the process is aimed mainly at legitimizing the military's hold on power.